The Torc

The most characteristic artefact of Celtic culture is another round structure, the tore, which is literally a binding of metal. Originating in the fifth century bce during the La Tenc period, the tore is essentially a body ornament made of precious metal in the form of a curved rod with identical free ends that face one another, almost touching. In effect, tores are incomplete circles. Worn on the neck or arm, they must be flexible enough to enable the wearer to put them on and take them off, but without damaging or breaking the metal. Tores appear to have had a sacred meaning, for images of the gods show them wearing tores around their necks, or holding them in their hands. Among the wealth of magnificent ancient Celtic artefacts, some of the most masterly craftsmanship is preserved in the tores. One of the most remarkable collection of tores comes from the splendid hoard found at Snettisham in Norfolk, England. Dating from the first century bce, the treasure consists of golden tores composed of exquisite ropework in metal. One of the more notable examples is in the form of a rope composed of eight strands, each strand of which is made of eight twisted golden rods. The fineness of detail and the regularity of the twined metal in these tores is a demonstration of the highest skills possessed by the ancient Celtic goldsmiths. These wonderful ancient Celtic tores are displayed in the British Museum.

While the curved bodies of tores were composed of ornamented rods or ropework of precious metal, their terminals were fashioned into geometric forms or animal heads. A heavy silver tore from Trichtingen in southern Germany is a fine example. The Trichtingen tore has opposing terminals in the shape of bulls' heads, each of which wears a tore around his neck. There are literary references to Celtic tore terminals in the shape of dogs and other animals, as well as knob- and ring-shaped endings. The twisted ropework of the tore is an early example of the Celtic motif of the entwined or interlaced rope, which appears later in various ornamental and symbolic forms on Celtic Crosses. Like tores, Iron Age Celtic chains are remarkable examples of the smith's craft where hard metal has been transformed into a flexible structure whose patterns prefigure the ornament on later Celtic Crosses. The smiths who made them went far beyond mere utilitarian design, creating remarkable interweavings of skilfully patterned iron links. A related Celtic invention in the military field was chainmail, introduced around 300 bce, and soon adopted by the Romans and other military powers. Like the tores, chainmail shows the Celtic love of interpénétration of materials, in which individual rings of the hardest iron are interlocked to create an impenetrable, yet flexible, armour.

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